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Broken Promises: Relocation Sites for Maasai Facing Evictions Remain Critically Flawed with Risk of Conflict Escalating

December 1, 2022
Water trough for cattle in Msomera. Copyright: The Oakland Institute

Water trough for cattle in Msomera © The Oakland Institute


December 1, 2022; 6:00 AM PT

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  • Field research in Msomera — site picked by the Tanzanian government to relocate Indigenous residents who face evictions from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) — reveals area is inhabited by long-term residents.

  • Land set aside for evicted NCA residents does not have adequate water and grazing land.

  • Lack of basic resources and taking land from the residents of Msomera without their free, prior, informed consent is escalating risk of conflict.

  • To force the Maasai out of the NCA, the Tanzanian government has resorted to harsh cuts in vital public services, including necessary health services and imposition of strict livelihood restrictions. Endulen Church hospital, the primary hospital for 60,000 Maasai in the NCA, has been downgraded to a clinic — with ambulance and emergency services discontinued; all government nurses, therapists, radiation specialists relocated to other areas.

Oakland, CA — As the Tanzanian government runs roughshod resettlement plans for so-called “volunteers” from the NCA, new field research at the proposed site, Msomera village in Handeni district, exposes a very dire situation.

Oakland Institute’s report, Flawed Plans for Relocation of the Maasai from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, previously raised serious concerns with the resettlement process, adequacy of the selected sites, and major discrepancies between government promises and the reality on the ground. Despite these warnings, follow up field research conducted in October 2022, reveals that relocation sites continue to lack adequate water and grazing land, while existing residents are being driven out of their homes and land to make way for those relocated from the NCA. This is creating conflicts over scarce resources in the area.

“In Msomera, livestock are suffering from the lack of water as there is only one cattle trough in the community. The area also lacks necessary grass for grazing and cannot support the cattle in the area,” said the researcher [name withheld because of security concerns]. The number of cattle allowed to relocate is severely constrained — a major issue given their critical role in the livelihoods, nutrition, and culture of the Maasai. New settlements are being built over grazing areas, further reducing available land.

Approximately 2,400 NCA residents have been relocated to the village, bringing the total population to 8,900 and straining available resources. The entire village relies on one water tap that produces salty water. As a result, poor villagers are spending huge amounts of money and time collecting water for domestic use. “People wait for two to three days without access to water. Salty water from the tap if used for drinking or cooking is causing health issues,” the researcher added. Some families report traveling 12 kilometers round trip by foot or motorbike to collect safe drinking water.

The consequence of government’s failure to consult with Msomera residents — raised as a concern in the Institute’s previous report — is now being realized. The government claims that long-term residents are illegal occupants of the land while the local courts and traditional grievance mechanisms have seen a drastic spike in land dispute claims with the relocation of the NCA residents to Msomera. The Parakuyo pastoralist peoples, a Maasai sub-tribe, have occupied the land since the early 1980s with the village legally established in 1992.

A heavy military presence remains in Msomera, but researchers warn that once forces leave, conflict between new arrivals and previous residents will erupt. “This is an urgent situation that must be addressed before serious violence occurs. International pressure on the government must be immediately implemented to stop the relocations before it is too late,” concluded the researcher.

Forced by Cuts in Vital Services in the NCA, Maasai “Volunteer” for Resettlement

In October 2022, the government further cut vital services in the NCA in an effort to drive the Maasai out from the area. The Endulen Church hospital, the primary care facility for nearly 60,000 pastoralists, was downgraded to a clinic. Ambulance and emergency services have been discontinued, and all government nurses, therapists, radiation specialists relocated to other areas. Care for mothers and newborns and ultrasound services have also been discontinued. Only two doctors remain in Endulen — severely lowering medical care for pastoralists in the NCA — who relied on the hospital for a variety of health services, including care for HIV/AIDS and other diseases as well as emergency services. Pastoralists in the NCA can now only access health clinics or dispensaries with far fewer available services.

“The cruelty of denying vital medical services to the Indigenous residents of the NCA reveals the reality behind villagers “volunteering” to relocate. With severe constraints on the grazing areas and home gardens banned, Maasai are struggling to survive and are left with no option,” said Oakland Institute’s Executive Director, Anuradha Mittal.

Funding for education within the NCA has also been cut by the government. On March 31, 2022, the local government ordered that TSh195,500,000 [~US$84,000] in COVID-19 relief funds, initially marked for public schools within the NCA, will be transferred to the Handeni district. Despite the transfer, promises around improved education, health, and water infrastructure in Msomera remain unfulfilled. No new health facilities have been built to accommodate migrants, in the area which has only one dispensary. While the government promised to build four new education facilities, only two have been built.

What is driving this travesty and widespread human rights abuses was explicitly stated by Dr. Christopher Timbuka, Deputy Conservation Commissioner of the NCA: The strategy of relocating NCA residents is geared towards the realization of the government’s goal of attracting 1.2 million tourists annually to Tanzania and an income of Sh260 billion [~US$111.5 million] by 2025 from the sector.

“Any claims that these forced relocations will better the lives of the Maasai are a blatant lie. The government continues to prioritize tourism revenues over everything — including lives,” concluded Mittal.